Friday, February 10, 2012

Hattiesburg Architecture- Saenger Theater

As someone who maintains an avid interest in architecture, it is only natural for me to highlight some of the architectural gems of my area.  The first building I will share with you is the Saenger Theater in downtown Hattiesburg.

Saenger Theater on opening day in 1929.
 The Saenger brothers, Abe and Julian, built six other ornate movie palaces throughout the South in the late 1910's and early 1920's.  The theater in Hattiesburg was their seventh and final project completed before the sale of their enterprise to the Publix Theater chain, which had ties to Paramount Pictures.  The Saengers enlisted New Orleans architect Emile Weil to design and build their Hattiesburg theater.  Weil was an architect of some note in New Orleans, having overseen the building of properties that had become highly respected for their design.  Weil had opened his own architecture firm in 1899, so by the time he was contracted by  the Saenger brothers, he was well established.

  This is one of the ornate mansions in New Orleans that contributed to Emile Weil's sterling reputation.

The Saenger Theater opened in Hattiesburg on Thanksgiving day 1929, and was immediately a well received property.  It soon became known as "The jewel of downtown Hattiesburg".  The theater was art-deco in its ornamentation and style, which was the style du jour in the 1920's and 1930's.  The theater could seat over 1,000 and featured a full orchestra pit and a 778-pipe Robert Morton organ.  This organ would be used to accompany the silent movies that first played in the Saenger, and also during intermissions between pictures.  The organ was known for being one of the finest in  the South.

A good example of art-deco style ornamentation from the Saenger lobby.
A balcony light fixture from the Saenger.

The main chandelier in the theater auditorium. It weighs over a ton, and contains more than 500 pieces of glazed glass.
Art-deco sconce from theater auditorium.
The Saenger Theater was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and was the recipient of a full restoration in 1999 by  the city of Hattiesburg.  The theater had sadly fallen into disrepair in the 1980's, and had passed into the ownership of the city of Hattiesburg.  Today, the theater is host to concerts, plays and other theatrical productions, and civic events.  The Saenger is a good representation of the art-deco architectural style, and is indeed a gem of the Hattiesburg downtown area.

The Saenger present day.

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